Pink College Essay Handout from Ann Arbor District Library Presentation

A big “thank you!” to the Ann Arbor District Library, and my colleagues John Boshoven and Geri Markel for another exciting presentation on “Solving the College Admissions Puzzle” at the Ann Arbor District Library on Sept. 27, 2016.  We were delighted to have 85 participants, but so sad to run out of handouts.  We know it’s crunch time! If you need some quick help with writing college application essays, scroll down.

But if you want to avoid thinking about writing a college application essay for two more minutes, let’s take a minute to talk about the future.  How are you going to send off your kids to college?  There might be tears or cheers, but what else will mark the moment besides a few snapshots?  I suggest making your teen a cookbook with favorite family recipes. I did that for our daughters.  You can do something simple, in a binder, or something more fancy, printed and bound at a copy center. Either way, this is your chance to stay in touch, one delicious bite at a time!  Maybe they’ll be eating dorm food for starters, but believe me, one day soon they will have kitchen facilities and will want to start cooking for themselves. This way, they’ll be ready to get a taste of home.


Need some more college essay help?  Here are three great options:

1. Click here to learn more about this one-night class for both parents and students on college essay writing  Oct 18, 2016, Saline, MI Rec and Ed. Class:  7 Secrets for a Successful College Application Essay

2. Click here to learn about how to get one-on-one assistance from Essay Coaching.

3 Click here to download the pink AAPL handout


The content from the handout is below:

Common Application Essay Prompts ( for Students Applying in Fall, 2016

The essay demonstrates your ability to write clearly and concisely on a selected topic and helps you distinguish yourself in your own voice. What do you want the readers of your application to know about you apart from courses, grades, and test scores?

  1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

EC Writing advice: Stay away from talking about major problems (divorce, disease, death, relocation) unless you are explaining a transcript issue and/or you can share positive details of how you thrived through this problem and continue to thrive. This is a good way to share your passion. What do you care about, why, what have you done about it? How does your passion affect your plans for the future?

  1. The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

EC Writing advice: Did you decide to do something that was difficult for you, or did you simply find yourself faced with a challenge? Describe the challenge, describe your “failure”—exactly what happened. Three quarters of the essay should be about how it affected you and lessons learned.

  1. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

EC Writing advice: Describe the experience in detail. Where were you? What was said or done? Be detailed about what prompted you—what in your past had you read or seen or heard to give you your belief? What have you learned since then to help you decide to whether or not you would make the same decision again? Remember to be respectful of friends, family, adults—saying “I helped because my coach had no idea what he was doing” weakens an essay.

  1. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma-anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

EC Writing advice: Pick a problem that you feel is or was important to you to solve. The type of problem you pick will tell the reader something about what you care about. For example, people who love to read might want to talk about figuring out their favorite mystery, a programmer might talk about coding dilemma. Avoid talking about problems that might cause someone to be concerned about your ability to handle college, such as your struggles with an addiction or your own physical or mental health. When you talk about the steps to identify a solution, include others who helped you and describe how they helped. Include what you did as well as what you thought or felt as you solved the problem

  1. Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

EC Writing advice: Why was it meaningful? What happened during the experience? How did it change you? Use sensory detail, dialogue. Do you have a special person in your life who has changed you? How? What have you done as a result of knowing him/her that you might not have?

Some Excellent Essay Topics: Write about a meaningful…


1.     Challenge

2.     Decision

3.     Epiphany

4.     Passion

5.     Experience or Moment

6.     Relationship

7.     Skill or Habit

8.     Place

9.     Combination of any above

The Best Essays Show One or More of These Qualities:


§   Passion

§   Talent

§   Ability to lead

§   Initiative

§   Creativity

§   Growth

§   Intellectual readiness for college

§   Self-insight


Essay Writing Process

  1. Research colleges and get organized.
  2. Stir up your thoughts and memories by writing lists and writing quickly (see below).
  3. Choose a topic that you love, and then analyze what your essay will say about you.
  4. Write a draft of a true story
  5. Edit, edit, edit before you press the send button or seal the envelope. Read aloud!
  6. Make the most of your support team to reduce stress and anxiety.

How to Pour First Thoughts on the Page Quickly (A Cure for “Writer’s Block”)

  1. Set a timer on your phone for the amount of time you’ll write (like 10 minutes for starters)
  2. Think of a topic. Select a prompt or an idea from a list of interesting and recent moments you remember.
  3. Keep your hand moving. This is essential. Don’t stop!
  4. Don’t cross out.
  5. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, and grammar.
  6. If you are not sure what to write, just write “I don’t know what to write, I don’t know what to write” until something comes to you. It will. Our brains love to think.
  7. As writing guru Natalie Goldberg says, “Feel free to write the worst junk in America.”
  8. Read and circle any interesting lines and use them as a prompt to keep writing.